Split council advances plans for Taylor site

Zoning law altered, land exempted from critical-area measure

January 17, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Ending weeks of protracted and sometimes bitter debate, the Anne Arundel County Council passed two bills last night, clearing the way for the former David Taylor Research Center to be converted to a high-tech office park on the banks of the Severn River.

The twin 4-3 votes highlighted the council's deep divisions over the scale of the $250 million project, with two of the dissenters saying the votes violated council parliamentary rules.

Throughout the debate, the minority has said that the project would cause traffic jams in nearby neighborhoods and that it disregards a county-approved plan for reusing the old naval research center.

The majority, echoed by County Executive Janet S. Owens, has stressed the 1,958 potential jobs and called the project a perfect fit for the site.

A development team led by two Naval Academy alumni plans to build 730,000 square feet of office space and an inn with sweeping views of downtown Annapolis and the academy. The first phase of the 10-year project would include construction of new headquarters for TeleCommunication Systems Inc., now based in Annapolis.

The Navy has yet to come to terms with the county on the transfer of the 46-acre site. And the county and developer, Annapolis Partners, still must negotiate a development agreement that spells out everything from parking limits to square-footage caps.

The council must then approve the development agreement, as well as the transfer of the land, which will go from the Navy to the county to the developer with no money changing hands. The developer plans to spend about $19 million on new sewers and other infrastructure.

"We still have the hammer," said Councilman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat who supported the zoning-related measures.

Critics on the council, led by Republican Cathleen M. Vitale of Severna Park, maintained that the bills should require the developer to address issues such as traffic.

"The concept is good; it's certainly visibly pleasing," Vitale said. "But at the same time we should be focused on the reason people live in Anne Arundel County. ... The only way we have the opportunity to maintain the quality of life is if we do smart development."

Vitale, whose district includes the old research center, voted against the bills. She was joined by a fellow Republican, John J. Klocko III of Crofton, and a Democrat, Barbara D. Samorajczyk of Annapolis.

One of the measures changes zoning laws to permit the office park in an area zoned residential. The other measure exempts the property from the Chesapeake Bay critical area law, meant to protect the bay and its tributaries by restricting development in environmentally sensitive areas.

"It's another step in the process," said Ron K. McDonald of Annapolis Partners. "There is still a lot to do."

Last night's outcome never seemed in doubt; the only question was one of timing.

Last month, Annapolis Partners - a joint venture of TCS and Mesirow Stein Real Estate Inc. of Chicago - pledged to include certain conditions in the development agreement. Those included capping the number of parking spaces at 2,281 and limiting the number of jobs to 1,958. At its height, the Taylor research center employed 1,400 people.

The partnership agreed yesterday to "periodic monitoring" of traffic generated by the site to make sure it does not exceed established limits.

Council Chairwoman Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat, scheduled yesterday's meeting for 2 p.m., hoping to avoid a late night. But the council spent an hour debating whether rules permitted discussion at that early hour - meetings usually start at 7 p.m. - and then recessed for two hours so Vitale, a lawyer, could finish a case in court.

Klocko and Samorajczyk say the vote violated council rules because a motion to suspend rules and take up the David Taylor bills at 2 p.m. failed to gain the necessary five votes. Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer, acting as parliamentarian, said the council had the discretion to consider the bills.

Shortly before the vote, Samorajczyk criticized the process, saying public participation had been "stifled." That provoked angry retorts from her colleagues, with Klosterman calling the comments "ill-advised" and Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, calling them "personally offensive."

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